Tag Archives: BEP

Nashville sues state over education funding

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nashville is suing the state over what it says is inadequate funding of public education, in violation of the Tennessee Constitution.

Nashville joins Shelby County and a cluster of seven counties that includes Hamilton, which have filed their own lawsuits over the state’s funding of the Basic Education Program, or BEP. That’s the method the state uses to meet its constitutional obligation to provide free K-12 public education.

According to the Nashville lawsuit filed Thursday, lawmakers have not provided enough money for the school system to hire the legally required number of teachers and translators for its English language learners.

Nashville has the highest number of students who come from a non-English language background in the state, according to the lawsuit. They make up about a quarter of total Metro Nashville Public School students and include more than 16,000 Spanish speakers, more than 3,000 Arabic speakers and more than 1,000 Kurdish speakers. Continue reading

Challenge to BEP funding stands (but not as a class action)

A Nashville judge ruled Friday that seven Southeast Tennessee school districts can proceed with their lawsuit over state funding of public education, reports the Times-Free Press.

“I am respectfully denying the [state’s] motion to dismiss,” Chancellor Claudia C. Bonnyman said after hearing nearly 90 minutes of arguments from state Deputy Attorney General Kevin Steiling and Hamilton County Board of Education attorney Scott Bennett.

But the state wrested one victory out of the hearing when Bonnyman denied Hamilton County’s motion for class-action status in the lawsuit over the state’s Basic Education Program funding formula.

If granted, the motion would have brought all 141 school systems into the lawsuit.

Even so, Friday’s ruling opens the latest chapter in a nearly 30-year legal struggle over state support of public education.
Continue reading

McCormick balks at handling Haslam BEP bill

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick says he believes an education bill pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration adversely impacts Hamilton County schools and thus may step down from sponsoring the measure, reports the Times-Free Press.

Haslam’s amendment would stop phasing in a nearly nine-year-old reform of Tennessee’s massive Basic Education Program funding formula. The 2007 reform is known as BEP 2.0 and it was intended to benefit urban school districts like Hamilton County, which had threatened to sue the state.

The governor’s measure would eliminate a requirement directing the state to continue implementing the BEP 2.0 with available funds until it becomes the entire formula.

Tennessee’s original BEP was enacted in 1992 in response to smaller systems, which had sued the state charging unequal treatment. They eventually won victories in three separate suits.

Right now, the $4 billion school funding formula is split 50/50 between the original BEP, which was funded by a half-cent sales tax increase, and BEP 2.0, which was partially funded with a cigarette tax hike. And, thus, it would remain under Haslam’s proposal.

The main difference between the two formulas is over how they gauge local systems’ ability to fund their share of educating Tennessee’s estimated 1 million students.

“He [Haslam] is concerned about a small schools’ lawsuit coming in front of the state, and he feels like we need to recalculate the amount,” McCormick said in an interview Thursday.

McCormick said Hamilton County Schools and some of the state’s other large school systems would be adversely impacted by the change. Hamilton County and six nearby systems last year sued the state, charging among other things that because BEP 2.0 has never been implemented, schools are being shortchanged.

“The issue is that under current law we’re supposed to do 2.0,” said McCormick, who voted for the cigarette tax increase in 2007. Shortly after, the Great Recession struck and then-Gov. Phil Bredesen never fully funded BEP 2.0.

Haslam hasn’t increased its proportion of the formula since he took office, and now he’d like to get rid of the provision.

Asked whether he would carry the governor’s bill, McCormick responded, that’s a good question.

“I think I have an obligation to the governor to make sure his bill gets a fair hearing,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean I need to personally carry it. And I think this would be a situation where I would not personally carry it and would try to affect the outcome of it, but in a way that does not harm Hamilton County and some of the other large counties.”

School boards denounce elimination of education funding recommendations

A revolt that began in Bradley County against stripping long-held priorities from Tennessee’s education funding formula flamed statewide Sunday, according to the Times-Free Press.

At the Tennessee School Boards Association 2015 leadership conference, delegates voted almost unanimously for a resolution urging the state to fund all recommendations made in years past by the BEP Review Committee.

The committee, whose job is to make recommendations on school funding, astonished the education community in its annual report issued Nov. 1. The report dropped eight years of previous recommendations and the specific dollar amounts to implement them.

Those included priorities such as reducing class sizes in middle and high school, boosting education support services such as nurses, counselors and technology coordinators, and boosting money for classroom supplies and materials.

Those same needs and services were cited when school boards in Hamilton County and six nearby counties filed suit in March, claiming the state isn’t putting enough money into education for schools to meet mandated responsibilities. Shelby County also filed a separate suit.

Dr. Jonathan Welch, a Hamilton County school board member, has questioned whether the omissions were related to the lawsuit.

So do many other school boards in Tennessee, said Chris Turner, chairman of the Bradley County Board of Education.

Last week the Bradley board, also part of the suit, passed a resolution denouncing the exclusion of the recommendations and calling on the TSBA to adopt its own resolution “calling upon State officials to fund the true cost of educating Tennessee students, specifically to include the cost components recognized and recommended by the BEP Review Committee in past years.”

That’s what happened Sunday night, when 217 of the 219 delegates voted for the resolution seeking full funding of past priorities.

“The funding formula accurately reflects what school systems across the state actually do,” Turner said by telephone. “We think those things are necessary; that’s why we do them now.

“We think it’s very important to ask the committee what new data, what new information would have guided them,” to drop those recommendations, he said.

“The data doesn’t suggest it or support it, what we do in schools doesn’t suggest it or support it. This is such a huge shift in direction from what that group has done in the past. There must have been an outside influence, and I believe the school boards of the state of Tennessee deserve an answer.”

…Dr. Sara Heyburn, executive director of the Tennessee Board of Education whose staff runs the BEP Review Committee, also told the Times Free Press last week the committee’s move had nothing to do with the lawsuits.

“The BEP report reflects the BEP Review Committee’s 2015 priorities as well as a collective, ongoing commitment to Tennessee’s teachers and students,” Heyburn said via email.

She noted that the report and recommendations were adopted with no dissenting votes at public meetings, and said there was a “concerted effort to make the 2015 documents more succinct and focused for the state’s policy makers.”

But two committee members have told the Times Free Press that move was never discussed during this year’s abbreviated meetings and they were unaware it had happened. Four meeting attendees say the same thing.

BEP panel changes priorities after filing of lawsuit

A state panel that makes annual recommendations for improving Tennessee’s school-funding formula has abruptly dropped years of previously made and often-ignored priorities from its latest report, reports Andy Sher.

Those same dust-gathering recommendations were cited last spring by (Chattanooga area) education boards in a lawsuit alleging the state is not paying anywhere near the actual costs of educating students.

The exclusion of most past recommendations from the Basic Education Program Review Committee’s Nov. 1 report roused suspicions.

“What changed?” asked Dr. Jonathan Welch, a Hamilton County school board member. Hamilton and six nearby counties sued Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers last spring over funding. Shelby County school leaders have filed a separate suit.

Welch said the annual report “was very consistent for years and then it was different this year.”

Asked if he thought the dropped items had anything to do with the lawsuit, Welch said, “it may. I think that’s a question for the Review Committee and those who put it together.”

Dr. Sara Heyburn, executive director of the Tennessee Board of Education, said in an email that the review committee’s move had nothing to do with the two lawsuits pending before a Davidson County judge.

“The BEP report reflects the BEP Review Committee’s 2015 priorities as well as a collective, ongoing commitment to Tennessee’s teachers and students,” Heyburn said. She noted that the report and recommendations were adopted with no dissenting votes at public meetings, and said there was a “concerted effort to make the 2015 documents more succinct and focused for the state’s policy makers.”

The committee deleted an entire section that was listed in the 2014 document as “Additional BEP Formula Improvements Recommended in Previous Years as an extended priority.”

One dropped item was continued implementation of the 2007 formula revamp known as BEP 2.0. Others included reducing class sizes and creating new components for professional development and mentoring; doubling the number of school nurses from one per 3,000 students to one per 1,500, and adding technology coordinators. Most go back to at least 2007.

Lawyers seek class action status for BEP lawsuit

Hamilton County school board’s lawyer is asking a judge to grant class action status to a pending lawsuit, reports the Times-Free Press, meaning every school district in Tennessee could be part of the legal effort to get full funding of the state’s Basic Education Program.

“While the larger districts have been the ones voicing concerns about the underfunding of education, this underfunding has ramifications literally everywhere,” school district attorney D. Scott Bennett said.

Hamilton County Schools and six nearby school districts — Bradley, Coffee, Grundy, Marion, McMinn and Polk — are plaintiffs in the lawsuit Bennett filed on March 24 in Davidson County Chancery Court.

The suit claims the state has “breached its duty under the Tennessee Constitution to provide a system of free public education for the children of this state.”

The lawsuit argues the state doesn’t provide enough funding for numerous expenses, including teacher pay and health insurance. The state underestimates by about $10,000 what teachers are actually paid, the lawsuit says, and pays only for 10 months of teachers’ 12 months of insurance.

Attorneys for the state deny the entire claim.

Bennett’s lawsuit should be “dismissed in its entirety,” said a 32-page memorandum filed in late April by Kevin Steiling, deputy state attorney general. The lawsuit relies on a “profoundly flawed interpretation” of three successful previous lawsuits against the BEP, the memo states.

“These pleas for more funding are not properly directed to the courts of Tennessee — they must be directed to the General Assembly,” Steiling wrote.

In his 2015-16 budget, which the Legislature passed after the lawsuit was filed, Gov. Bill Haslam added an extra $100 million for teacher salaries and $44 million for inflationary increases in the BEP, along with $30 million to pay for one more month of health insurance for teachers.

Haslam’s BEP ‘task force’ has started meeting

NASHVILL, Tenn. (AP) — A task force appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam has begun studying the state’s school funding formula.

The panel held its first meeting on Monday. It was formed amid criticism that the Basic Education Program, or BEP, is not adequately funding districts statewide. The program hasn’t been fully funded since it was overhauled about seven years ago under then-Gov. Phil Bredesen.

In December, the Metro Nashville school board voted unanimously to ask officials to fund public education in a way that would allow those districts to meet rigorous new academic standards.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, the panel’s chairman, said the main objective of the group is to explore the components that make up the funding formula and how the money it generates is distributed.

The board is expected to submit a report to the governor by the end of the year.

Big school systems talk up legal challenge to state’s education funding formula

In a weekend meeting, representatives of Tennessee’ four largest school systems – Metro Nashville, Shelby County, Knox County and Hamilton County – discussed the possibility of launching a legal attack on the state’s education funding formula, reports Andrea Zelinski.

Driven by a presentation from Metro Nashville School Board’s Will Pinkston explaining how charter school growth will cost the school district an estimated $23 million in its next budget, the state’s four largest school districts rallied around the idea of challenging the Basic Education Program formula as a way to address school choice finances.

“Consider this is a glimpse of what the future will look like in your budgets,” said Pinkston, pointing to charter school costs climbing from $4.6 million in 2008 to an estimated $62 million next year. “Make no mistake, they’re headed your way if they haven’t gotten there already.”

Careful to say some charter schools have been good to the school district, Pinkston pointed to 21 charter schools calling the state home four years ago, compared to 22 of the schools on the books now in Nashville alone.

Targeting inadequacies in the BEP would be a new frontier in the battle over school choice which has sucked up money and time in the local school district. So far, MNPS has led opposition to rapid expansion of charter schools and its officials stressed at the Coalition of Large School Systems meeting a unified voice among the biggest school systems could increase their odds.

“The fight that we see coming is the fight that we see in Nashville,” said Hamilton County School Board member David Testerman who added the financial pressures charter schools put on school districts “in my opinion, it cannot be legal. We just have to prove it.”

…Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman — who is often on the opposing side of issues MNPS officials stand for — said every funding formula “outlives its utility” at some point, but didn’t know “how far down the road” that kind of change would be necessary here.

“The big systems think that somehow if it was different they’d make out better. The small systems are utterly convinced if it was done different, they would do better,” he said. “It’s always interesting to me when people are just so dead certain that a different system would somehow benefit them.”

Comptroller Sees ‘Risky Situation’ in BEP Funding

Tennessee’s Comptroller is warning a pair of programs used to fund education may be in a “risky situation,” says WPLN.
A new report from the Comptroller’s office expresses several concerns with the Basic Education Program, or BEP. It’s been used to divvy out state money to local school districts since the early 90s, and the amounts are determined, in part, by how many students are on the rolls.
Those figures are submitted by the districts themselves. Add in economic pressures, the argument goes, and there’s an incentive for overstating how many kids are in school on an average day. What’s more, the report’s authors also contend two decades of tweaks have made the formula so convoluted that school systems can’t be sure they’re truly receiving the right amount.
The Comptroller’s office doesn’t accuse anyone of gaming the system now, but suggests changes are needed to remove the temptation. And it says that’s a lesson that can be applied to the relatively new Complete College Tennessee Act.

Note: The full report is HERE. Comptroller Justin Wilson is scheduled to talk about it with the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee on Aug. 27.

Huffman Dodges Sevier Appeal for More State Money

While Sevier County officials say they feel like they’re making progress convincing state education officials to make some changes in school funding, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman remained noncommittal Monday, reports the Mountain Press..
Huffman, who was in the area to be part of the Tennessee Superintendent Study Council Conference, said he has had “helpful” sessions with people representing Sevier County, but dodged offering an opinion on the subject.
Whether he was just being coy or actually has not yet made up his mind on the matter, his refusal to weigh-in may be a disappointment to local folks hoping for a few extra school dollars. After pushing for more than four years for a change to the school funding model used by the state, local officials were optimistic that this could be the one when something actually changes.
They have Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, chairing the House Education Committee and believed they found a willing ally in Huffman.
“I’m waiting to hear back from the commissioner as to what we’re going to do,” Montgomery said of Huffman recently. “Hopefully we can continue moving this football down the field and toward the goal line.”
Montgomery indicated local officials were able to find some agreement with Huffman on at least one area of the funding program in question and remained optimistic a full solution could be reached.
…The guarded responses are not wholly unexpected. For one thing, it’s unlikely someone in a position like the commissioner’s would publicly jump on board in support of a funding change requested by one county before an official decision has been made. That’s particularly true when Gov. Bill Haslam, who could not attend the superintendents’ meeting because he was negotiating on state bond issues Monday, hasn’t offered his own opinion on the matter.
Note: The current formula for providing state aid to local education systems provides more money to systems with less ability to pay on their own. Sevier County gets to keep an extra portion of the state sales taxes collected – much if it from Smoky Mountains tourists – and has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state. Thus, it works out that Sevier gets less state funding per pupil than other systems – which does not sit well with local folks